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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
MARTIN BELL MP SEPTEMBER 3RD, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST
In a moment I'll be speaking to Martin Bell but first a reminder of how the man in the white suit came to be an MP, our correspondent Jonathan Beale reports.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST
Well he's here now to reconsider, the man himself Martin Bell whose new book, autobiography I guess one would call it, An Accidental MP, is just about to be published. Now this key point, you kick yourself for making that pledge right?

MARTIN BELL
Well it was a fairly, I did it for tactical reasons because I didn't want to lose but I'm sorry I made it, yeah.

DAVID FROST
Now you say you don't want to just change your mind just like that because you'll be doing what politicians so often do and breaking a promise, right?

MARTIN BELL
Yeah I'm actually under pressure for keeping a promise rather than for breaking one which I think is fairly unusual but it was made to the people of Tatton and it will be kept to the people of Tatton, that's for sure.

DAVID FROST
Well what about, couldn't you solve the problem, for instance, by commissioning an opinion poll, there's been one saying 82 per cent wants you to carry on, but what about if you commissioned, or somebody commissioned an opinion poll and asked the people of Tatton, is it all right if Martin Bell changes his mind and they say by 75 to 25 it's okay if he changes his mind?

MARTIN BELL
I think if I was sort of career politician I could probably get away, if I were Ken Livingstone I could do that, I could say okay so I lied, trust me, you know, but I can't really do that, what I, I don't even know for sure if I want to do it again, being an MP seems wonderful when you're on a parliamentary recess but I'm not sure when you're at Prime Minister's Question Time whether it's quite so great. No I've had approaches from people in some other constituencies and come about December I'll decide what to do about those.

DAVID FROST
And you wouldn't take a, if you were offered it, you wouldn't take a Party seat would you?

MARTIN BELL
No I've had sort of approaches of one kind or another over the last three and a half years from all three parties actually but I think there's some virtue in being an independent, I think people rather like having an independent around and I'd like to stay independent, thank you.

DAVID FROST
Yes, it's tougher to win though, isn't it, if you're an independent?

MARTIN BELL
It has been but I think things are changing as the parties tighten their grip on the electoral process, I think people are rather more in favour of at least independent minded, look how Ken Livingstone did in the mayoral election in London, he would not have got as many votes, I think, if he'd stood as a Labour candidate as he did standing as an independent.

DAVID FROST
So there's hope for independents in Britain's green and pleasant land?

MARTIN BELL
I think so David, I think, not starting a party or movement or anything but I wouldn't be surprised if one or two got elected on, on local issues.

DAVID FROST
But if you were starting a party you'd call it the Little Persons Party, you said?

MARTIN BELL
Well I do rather like the idea of looking after the, the little people, it goes back a long way.

DAVID FROST
Colin Moynihan for instance?

MARTIN BELL
Well¿Well no it goes back to, to William¿actually, there's a tradition of it in British politics.

DAVID FROST
And what about your, your balance sheet of these last three and a half years and so on, I mean would you, have you found, do you think what you've done as an MP was a more worthwhile job, a worthwhile achievement than what you did as a journalist, I mean which is the more honourable profession?

MARTIN BELL
Or could you say the less dishonourable, I mean I've gone one from one held low in public esteem to one held even lower as you know. I'm not sure, you can't judge how you're doing, I loved being a war reporter when I did it but there comes a time you've got to grow up and stop doing that. And now I don't how I'm doing, all I know is that it's a huge privilege to do it and I'll leave it to others to judge.

DAVID FROST
What would you say is the greatest achievement you've managed. Obviously you can't win a vote with one, one MP, but what, what have you achieved so far?

MARTIN BELL
I think that the election itself sent a very important signal right throughout the country about the kind of people that, that voters wanted and didn't want as their MPs. Well I didn't do that but the people of Tatton did that, which once you get in you involve yourself in, in various causes and it's not for me to say what's worked and what hasn't but I've, I flatter myself there are some I've managed to progress through being involved in them, yeah.

DAVID FROST
What sort of things, landmines was really before you became an MP more than anything, wasn't it, the Chinook crash, things like that?

MARTIN BELL
The Chinook crash was important, the, the need for a gratuity to the 7,000 surviving prisoners of war of the Japanese is a hugely important issue and I think a debt of honour we have to pay to these wonderful old soldiers who've been neglected since 1945, and if we could just get that done, and it's now in the hands of the Prime Minister and I can't believe he'd say no. That would be a, a huge signal of gratitude to these old soldiers.

DAVID FROST
And you mentioned the signal when you were elected, have you, have you been able to do anything to reduce the amount of sleaze in the House of Commons do you think?

MARTIN BELL
I think that the MPs in this Parliament, this Parliament generally has a slightly better, we've had a markedly better reputation than the, than the last one, it's a slow process but I think some progress has been made, yeah I do.

DAVID FROST
Like what?

MARTIN BELL
Well a lot of people who were under suspicion and who did things in the last Parliament they shouldn't have done, all the people who were reported on by Sir Gordon Downey either did not stand again or were defeated and a new lot of people came in, there are very few, there are many fewer political consultancies which is always dangerous, people taking money to advance certain causes and I think that's been a change definitely for the better, yeah.

DAVID FROST
What about taking over from Betty Boothroyd, someone said they'd like to see you Speaker with all your vast experience of the House of Commons?

MARTIN BELL
Dear Sir David, this was done by a mischievous of mine, Paul Flynn MP, and I had to, I mean there are two things you need, one is independence of mind which I think I can honestly have but another is you've got to have real knowledge of the procedures of the House, I think you've got to be at least a fourth term MP so, so no and if necessary I would lead the campaign against myself. It's the only way you can do it.

DAVID FROST
That would be a novel thing for this. But what about, if you, if you're not running in December, if you decide not to run or you don't find the right seat what would you do if you're not an MP?

MARTIN BELL
There are lots of things you can do I just haven't approached asking if I'd be willing to help with the new democracy in Lithuania I think, there are lots of things you can do, maybe, but I don't have to decide yet and in fact I really don't, I think short campaigns are much better than long ones, I mean between being a candidate and being an MP last time it took me 24 days which was absolutely brilliant. Or you might even consider it yourself Sir David?

DAVID FROST
Well I don't know, I kind of like it here, you know and, but anyway good luck with what ever you, what ever you choose to do next.

MARTIN BELL
Thank you.

DAVID FROST
And good luck with the book too.

END

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